Guest

Secure Access

The Future of Network Security: Cisco’s SecureX Architecture

  • Viewing Options

  • PDF (139.7 KB)
  • Feedback
There are three major trends sweeping through the enterprise: the rapid rise of the consumerized endpoint, the onset of virtualization and cloud computing, and the growing use of high-definition video conferencing. Each of these critical technologies is transforming business-and forcing a fundamental shift in how security is developed and deployed.
Today's security solutions are largely centered on protecting the physical infrastructure, and traditional security policy is expressed in terms of a particular device such as "the corporate PC," an IP address, a network port, or an application protocol. In an increasingly mobile, borderless world, this construct is becoming significantly less relevant. To address new network and security dynamics, new security architectures need to be much more sophisticated. We need a sophisticated policy language that can be expressed in terms of who, what, where, when, and how. Security needs to be separated from the physical infrastructure underneath it. And it needs to be highly distributed so it can be deployed globally and can be available wherever and whenever the borderless enterprise touches the public Internet.
Cisco has developed a bold new architecture to meet the needs of borderless networks, allowing organizations large and small to collaborate easily, and their new workforce to roam freely, with confidence. This architecture allows for more effective, higher-level policy creation and enforcement. Since it uses a broad array of parameters for policy, it allows for much more effective security and enables situational awareness. Instead of a great many complex firewall rules, security policy can now be based on context, such as "the VP of sales can access the global sales forecast, but if she is seeking access through a smartphone in China using a strange protocol, and meanwhile she already authenticated herself through the main campus in California two hours ago, this connection is invalid."
This sort of intelligent policy enforcement uses next-generation scanning elements that are meshed into the new Cisco ® SecureX Architecture. Within this new architecture, the next-generation endpoint is able to automatically find the nearest scanning element somewhere in the virtual security fabric and to make a seamless connection. The behavior of a hacker halfway around the world is noted, that information is shared, and traffic from the hacker's servers is blocked because your network now knows that it comes from someone that it cannot trust. Policy is centrally managed, but intelligence is gathered globally, with highly distributed enforcement.

The End of the Static Endpoint

Most of the security solutions being deployed were developed at time when the enterprise network was relatively static. Users would come in to work and sit at a desk to use a PC that rarely moved because it was connected by a wire to a port in the wall. The PC had a controlled set of software-the "corporate image"-that included security scanning and configuration. This corporate endpoint was one of the primary places that security was enforced.
Today, that endpoint has burst into thousands of pieces. The rapid pace of innovation in endpoint technology has created wave after wave of consumer devices that are flooding in to the enterprise, whether we like it or not. New users, sometimes known as "millenials," are demanding the right to use devices of their choice and to blend their personal and professional lives on endpoints that are often as much an accessory as a work tool. According to recent surveys, two-thirds of these new additions to the workforce, when forced to choose, will select a lower-paying job that provides flexibility for how and where they do their job and what devices they can use.
At Cisco, our internal IT team saw this trend and implemented an "any device" policy that allows users the choice of mobile phone, desktops or laptops, and even choice of operating system. After two years of "any device," we have found not only end-user satisfaction has increased, but also that the cost to serve our end user population has been dramatically reduced. This combination of lower cost and greater end-user satisfaction has helped drive widespread interest in an "any device" policy across the industry.
Furthermore, as businesses enter into increasingly complex relationships with contractors, partners, suppliers, and customers, the clear line between employees and "not employees" has also dissolved. At many companies, the number of partners, contractors, and nontraditional employees that need to access corporate assets often exceeds the number of employees that need access.
These trends have led most IT strategists to realize that we can longer depend on a controlled configuration at the endpoint.

Data Goes Mobile Too

Mobile computing and the modern, global, outsourced business have conspired to create a dynamic, uncontrolled, and highly mobile user community. But it's not just users who are on the move-corporate data is as well. The rapid onset of data center virtualization, cloud computing, and software as a service (SaaS) means that it is getting harder and harder for the IT team to point their finger and say, "My data resides here."
The efficiencies of virtualization and cloud computing are hard to ignore. The Cisco vision is to provide customers with an array of utility computing technologies. The Cisco Unified Computing System provides blocks of computing, storage, and networking capacity in a utility computing framework that allows new applications to be brought up and down dynamically and to move seamlessly across infrastructure, on-premises or in the cloud, as required by demand. This computing model offers massive efficiencies, but it also breaks the traditional security model. In a virtualized infrastructure, where does the firewall go? Traditional firewalls are built on the construct of IP address, network port, and application protocol. As data centers become virtualized, this construct needs to be reimagined.

Back to Backhaul?

The vast majority of corporate networks were built using a hub-and-spoke model. Branch and remote traffic was backhauled to a small number of egress points (perhaps two in the U.S., one each in Asia and Europe) where the corporate network met the Internet. Known as the DMZ, this is the traditional place where network security resides: firewalls, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), web and email gateways.
But now, in a much more distributed, cloud-oriented world, the hub-and-spoke model is less appropriate. In fact, it can often be counterproductive. It made sense to backhaul traffic when most applications resided in the corporate data center, which was often logically close to the DMZ. But as applications move more and more to the cloud, mobile users are actually likely to be closer to their data than the DMZ is. Forcing a backhaul connection imposes latency, bottlenecks escalating traffic, and incurs the cost of a global round-trip that may no longer be necessary.
Furthermore, with the onset of business-to-business, high-definition video conferencing, the hub-and-spoke model is less than optimal. If a sales person in Mexico City wants to conference with a local customer in Mexico City, does it make sense to backhaul that high-definition, real-time video stream all the way to San Jose, California, and then back again? Clearly, the most efficient route is to stream traffic directly to the local customer and back. For cost and performance reasons, next-generation collaboration tools like Cisco TelePresence ® will demand a more decentralized network architecture. What happens to traditional security when there is no central collection point to analyze traffic and enforce policy?

The Blueprint for Securing the New Enterprise

To secure the new enterprise in a new world, we need a new security architecture. This new model will have several important features:

• It will use a higher-level policy language that understands the full context of a situation-the who, what, where, when, and how of security.

• It will allow for consistent policy enforcement independent of the underlying security scanning element.

• It will be hybrid in nature, spanning virtual and physical worlds, and on-premises and cloud worlds, to allow for seamless and consistent policy enforcement.

• It will have global knowledge of threats as they emerge and be able to correlate that information to protect applications and users in real time against those threats.

• It will allow for highly distributed security enforcement scanning, in effect pushing security closer to the end user or the application wherever they reside.

This isn't a blueprint for some plan in the future. It is necessary today.
Cisco has developed SecureX, a new context-aware security architecture to meet the needs of the new borderless enterprise. The architecture starts with a solid foundation-the technology that ensures your network infrastructure is not compromised in any way-that has security enforcement elements in the form of appliances, modules, or cloud services built on top. This architecture can deal with the full spectrum of devices, ranging from the traditional corporate PC or Mac, all the way to next-generation mobile devices such as iPads, Androids, or Cisco Cius . With Cisco AnyConnect , security is enforced in the network by tethering these myriad devices into the security infrastructure at the most optimal point and attaching seamlessly.
At the core of the SecureX security architecture is context-awareness-a significant shift from the traditional architecture that focused on content inspection, or looking at the data. Attackers have become adept at devising tricks to obfuscate content and bypass security. Anticipating these changes before they occurred, Cisco added full context to the inspection a decade ago, using data such as the identity of the sending mail server, its sending history, its location, and more. Cisco also took the same approach with web security and IPS sensors. Now, Cisco is adding that same level of threat telemetry data to millions of endpoints and devices using Cisco AnyConnect.
Cisco TrustSec ® extends context-awareness through policy-based access control for any user and any device seeking access to the distributed network. Users are authenticated and authorized based on who, what, where, when, and how. Endpoint devices are also analyzed to determine if they meet corporate security policy before being granted access. Nonauthenticating devices, such as printers or video cameras, are also automatically identified and inventoried.
Next, traffic from any authenticated device is tagged with a unique, context-based access policy marker. Network devices along the data path read this tag and enforce its associated policy by restricting access to predetermined network destinations and resources.
Finally, Cisco TrustSec provides data security. For example, a policy may require that any employee from the finance department accessing the payroll server must have their data secured. Cisco TrustSec understands this policy and can direct the network to dynamically encrypt the user's data.
Cisco is expanding this understanding of the value of context by bringing full context-awareness to the Cisco firewall. The Cisco firewall is also able to enforce security policies based on the who, what, where, when, and how of any request. It reveals who an individual is and their role in the organization, what corporate application they're accessing (whether it is enterprise resource planning [ERP], HR, finance, or source code), what device they're using (an iPhone or a Windows laptop), and whether that device is managed by IT. But full context-awareness also relies on both local and global parameters. For example, a directory entry is a local identity source, but an Internet connection requires consideration of global parameters like reputation for an email, web, FTP, or other server. The real advance here for the Cisco firewall lies in correlation. While interesting parameters like whether an employee is logged into the network from a building at headquarters or may not be very useful in isolation, but when this knowledge is correlated with other information-for example, the same employee is trying to access a customer relationship management (CRM) application from her iPad in Starbucks-it becomes pivotal.

The Borders Are Blurring

Cisco SecureX Architecture uses next-generation scanning elements that blur the lines between a firewall, an IPS, an anti-virus engine, a web proxy, and an access control solution. These next-generation scanning and enforcement elements are built on the solid state, inline technology of the Cisco network infrastructure. They are highly distributed and can be deployed in multiple form factors-as an appliance at the customer headquarters or main campuses, as a module in a branch office router, or as an image in Cisco's security cloud. However the customer chooses to deploy the scanning elements, they work together to create a security fabric, an array of security enforcement points that pushes security close to the end user, wherever the user may be, and on whatever device that end user might have.
What's more, the Cisco SecureX Architecture is smart. It knows what application is being used or what specific site is being accessed. It knows where in the world a user is tapping into the network, what time of day it is, how the secure network is being accessed (iPad, smartphone, desktop PC, or any other device), whether or not that device has been compromised, and what role that user plays in the organization.
The work place is changing, which has required all of us to change the way we think about security. Cisco SecureX simplifies policy language and does for security what content delivery networks did for webpages. It brings scanning and protection to wherever the users are. By reimagining security, we can transform it from being a gatekeeper to being an enabler that allows companies to adopt and benefit from new technologies. Security becomes a competitive weapon, not for what it keeps out, but for what it lets in-the great advances of the future.
For more information on the solutions, products, and services that comprise the Cisco SecureX Architecture, please visit www.cisco.com/go/security.